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A Picnic Style Bento

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Pictured, clockwise from top left: mixed greens salad with marmalade vinaigrette, chopped figs, and pine nuts; lemon curd with blueberries and ginger cookies; curried chicken salad; cucumber sandwich on english muffin; my bento wrap; packed up bento; couscous salad.

While both craving a citrus-y salad and wondering how to use up the remainder of my orange preserves, I concocted the marmalade vinaigrette. It”s one part marmalade, one part white balsamic vinegar, two parts olive oil, and a dash of paprika. Using those ratios, you can make as much or as little of the dressing as you”d like. I think the dressing would work well with any savory style of preserves, and what to put on the salad is entirely up to you. I didn”t have any mandarin oranges, which would”ve been delicious, but I did chop up some figs and sprinkle on a few pine nuts.

I”m also trying to use up leftover ginger cookies and lemon curd I bought to make a pie. The cookies pictured are Lars” Own Swedish Snaps, but I also really like Anna”s Ginger Thins. Both are available at Whole Foods. Here, they”re thrown together with some fresh blueberries from last week”s farmer”s market (it”s always a race to eat them before they mush into oblivion) for a light dessert that satisfies and clocks in at under 150 calories.

The curried chicken salad is an adaptation on an old British recipe called Coronation Chicken. Since I”m vegetarian, I use Quorn Naked Chick”n Cutlets in my recipes. This recipe would work just as well with real chicken, with steamed tempeh, or with fried tofu. In a small bowl, mix together: 1 tbsp mayo (I prefer Vegenaise), 1 tbsp mango chutney (apricot preserves taste great, too!), 1 tsp curry powder, dash of salt and pepper, dash of lemon juice, and a dash of lime juice. Mix together, then add 3-6 oz of your protein of choice, tossing several times to coat. You can use less mayo… or more if you like your chicken salad creamy. If you like it hot, add in a sprinkling of your favourite chili powder.

My coworker had an abundance of pickling cucumbers, and gave some of her leftovers to me. I didn”t have any plans to pickle them – they”re actually the perfect size for a salad for one person… or to make a cucumber sandwich. Here, I”ve toasted an English Muffin in my waffle maker (I like the patterns it leaves, and also, since less of the toppings are coming into contact with the textured bread, it keeps your packed sandwiches from getting soggy!). I let the bread cool on a baking rack before adding a thin layer of cream cheese, thinly sliced cucumber, fresh dill from the garden, and a sprinkle of pepper.

Most of my bento ideas come from repurposing leftovers. Since I usually cook for one, if I make a box of rice or pasta, I feel like I end up eating the exact same dish all week. Booooring. Now, I intentionally cook my carbs and proteins plain, then dress each serving up in different marinades and sauces. It feels like an entirely new dish every day. This couscous salad would work well with rice (white, brown or multigrain), orzo, or a small pasta like bowtie or rotini. I had leftover couscous, thus I made a couscous salad.

Since I”m making just one serving, I started with 1/4 cup couscous. Trust me, the quarter cup gets to be a big salad quickly! Add in: 1 tbsp slivered almonds, 1 tbsp sliced carrots, 1/2 stalk celery – diced, 1 plum tomato – diced, and 1/2 tsp raisins. The salad would really be quite good with any number of crisp and fresh garden veggies, so go wild. I had a little of the pickling cucumber left over from my sandwich, so I chopped that up and added it. In a separate bowl, mix together 1 tsp white wine vinegar, 1 tsp dijon mustard, 1 tsp lemon juice (add a little zest if you”d like), and 1/4 tsp parsley. Add the dressing to your salad mixture and toss to coat. By the time i was done adding veggies, i had about a half a cup of salad.

While at the craft store a few months ago, I ran across some fabric squares on sale. They were in such cute colours and just happened to be the right size to wrap my bento box in. Since they were already cut in squares, I simply ran a zigzag stitch over the edges with my sewing machine to keep the ends from fraying. To wrap the box, simply tie the opposite ends of the fabric square together. I then use the wrap as a tablecloth/napkin when i”m eating! the art of wrapping things in fabric is called “furoshiki”, and a quick Google search will show you that you can get pretty elaborate with this idea. But my basic project cost $2.50 for 5 fabric squares, and took me about 10 minutes to sew on my machine.

Happy Bento-ing this week!